Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Voting Time.....almost.

2015 promises to be an interesting one for Trinbagonians. With the impending general/parliamentary elections set for May, those who've been clamouring for social change will finally have their chance to help chart the  islands' political future.

Of course when the issue of elections is raised, there are always murmurings on whether we expats should consider returning home to vote, an approach that I myself often joke about but am now giving serious thought to actually doing. But aside from the potential legal ramifications (which I'll also address), one must stop to consider the social implications as well.

Simply put, is it right for a Trinbagonian living abroad to have the right to vote in affairs at home?

Those that argue against the practice cite various reasons such physical/geographic isolation from the voting base, unfamiliarity with local affairs as well not contributing to the nation's tax revenue base should preclude any expat. But then on the other hand, with the advent of the internet and the proliferation of social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, expatriate Trinbagonians are now more informed than ever if not certainly more involved in local affairs. And with many of us with financial and real estate holdings on the islands not to mention still having family and friends living there, many would see this as justification enough to give us "foreign locals" a vote.

Let's explore the arguments for and against voting rights for expats.

Geographic Isolation
The premise here is simple, if you don't live there, you shouldn't vote there. Living thousands of miles away in another country should preclude that person mainly because of an assumed unfamiliarity with local affairs. When roads go bad or there are issues with public transportation, crime, cost of living, food prices and things like the erosion of public trust in law enforcement, it is assumed that decisions on issues like these should be made by the persons actually affected.

On a local level, constituents each region are most aware of the issues specific to their region which is why it is impossible for a resident of one local regional council to go vote in another. As a former resident of  St. Anns East (i.e. Maracas, Santa Cruz, St. Anns, etc), I couldn't cast my vote at a San Fernando West polling station. Following that line of thinking, as a current resident of Gwinnett County, Atlanta GA, USA, it would make sense that I be excluded because I don't live there.

Simply put, only locals should have the right to vote on affairs that only affect locals.

Counter argument - Trinidad and Tobago is no longer the isolated little twin-island republic it used to be. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Ian Alleyne (lol) and Rachel Price as well as various prominent local blogs serve to provide outsiders like myself with an inside look at the day to day happenings in Trinidad and Tobago. Conveniences such  Google Voice, Skype, Magic Jack and Apple Facetime help to keep expats directly connected with loved ones and keep us updated in real time, so much so that I am often aware things happening in T&T long before many of my family and friends. That being said, should isolation really be an excuse for cutting us out?

Tax Basis
I probably shouldn't have to go into detail here but for argument sake I will. As a foreign-based Trinbagonian, it is assumed my contribution to the nation's revenue theoretically amounts to a "sizeable" zero dollars and zero cents. Uncle Sam gets all of my income tax revenue. That being said, the premise here is that if I don't contribute money to the country's coffers, that I shouldn't have the right to help determine how that money is spent.

Counter argument - Income tax isn't the only form of fiscal contribution. Many expats have sizeable cash holdings, land, businesses and other such investments, most of which are taxable. We pay property taxes, we pay capital gains taxes on interest not to mention the often obscene amount of Uncle Sam's dollars that expats tend to pump into the economy especially around Carnival time. I'm almost sure expats buy enough Shandy Carib and Naparima girls cookbooks to match the GDP of Grenada.

As such, it is my belief that if one is from there and one spends/invests there, that one should surely be able to have a say in electing Trinbago's next government.

Perpetuating the perception of racial bias
This is really the gorilla in the room for which I don't think I have a counter. The situation is this, Trinbagonians have not evolved beyond voting along racial lines. Political parties are often deeply ingrained in family tradition. You often hear "I was born into a PNM family." I vote PNM because my parents voted PNM and my parents parents before them voted PNM, etc......I basically wear my balisier proudly on my chest.

But lets face it, I vote PNM because I am an afro-trinbagonian. Most UNC/PPP/COP supporters probably do so because they're East Indian. Any talk of returning home to vote is really just a thinly veiled ploy to bulk up the ethnic support for one group or the other. One ethnic group is tired of the other ethnic group being in power basically.

This racial undertone to our political process is the one aspect of Trinbago culture that I cannot stand. Despite that fact, I still couldn't convince myself to vote outside of the racial trend myself. Besides, it'd be a shame to have to go cut down all those pretty little balisier plants we have growing round the back.

Wrapping up
Race relations aside, the fact remains that 99% of the people I care about, continue to live their lives in Trinidad and Tobago. Decisions on political affairs affects them and their well being. Further to that, I myself have no intention to remain in the US of A the rest of my natural life. Someday I will say goodbye to these hellish winters to return to the land of fresh doubles.

By the time I move back, I'd like to see perhaps a modern transit network, proper roads and highways, free tertiary education, maybe drainage infrastructure in Port-of-Spain that doesn't date back to the 1800's (a brother can dream).

I believe that the parties in power definitely do shape a nation's future and I feel that as a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, it is my right to help elect leadership best equipped to get us there.

.....................whether that's legal or not is another story for another day.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Nigerian Affair

I happened to find myself at a Nigerian wedding a weekend or two ago and my first  thought was holy cow. I'd been under the impression that no group of people on earth were capable of celebrating like Trinis do. I was wrong.

How foolish of me to think only the Irish drink like Irish. I was also wrong.

And since we're dispelling myths, let's address the main one, that Africans are always late. Let me say that continuing to perpetuate this mindset is narrow minded and short sighted, the wedding ceremony started reasonably on time, off by just 20 minutes............oh who am I kidding, the reception started 3 hours late.

The Ceremony
Mr. and Mrs. Osonwa
What's interesting is the fact that the wedding ceremony itself was quite ordinary; a standard Christian affair, scripture reading, vows, etc. To be honest, I really couldn't say what my expectations were going in, but I was at least thinking there'd be bloodshed, you know, halal goat, maybe a mini chicken massacre or something.

But not quite, it was reading, sermon, vows, kiss the bride.

I'd also noticed very few people in attendance at the actual wedding ceremony. Those reading this who've been to any African weddings, I know you're chuckling right now because you all know what's coming. I didn't.

The Reception Fete
Perhaps I've lived in the US for far too long as my concept of time has skewed somewhat. To Americans, 6:00 p.m. on an invitation means 5:45. Trinbagonians seem to think it means 7 o'clock. When Africans say 6 pm. they really mean 9 o'clock, which is the time the damn thing started. Folks were still walking in the door in droves even as the wedding party was processing in.

Dance Dance Revolution
I now understand why the wedding reception is so popular in this culture. See in my experience, wedding receptions can be a bit of a drag, talk talk and more talk, then talk some more, then you eat.

Take a gander at the program over to your right and tell me what you notice.

Dance, pray, dance, dance, break the kola nut, dance, eat, toast, dance, cut the cake, dance, toss the bouquet, dance and when you're through dancing, dance some more.

But there's a point to me even mentioning the wedding here in the first place. I came to a certain revelation once all the dancing started. The music they were dancing sounded very much like soca.

At one point the dj played an old school African music segment that sounded remarkably like calypso/ole skool kaiso.

But the similarities didn't end there, eventually they got around to serving dinner and I was handed a plate of  fry plantain and some other dishes that looked like, and tasted a lot like coo coo, callaloo, salt fish, stew fish accra and a beef patty. Here's a head scratcher for you, the dish that looks and tastes like accra is actually called akara, though it's made from mashed and fried black-eyed peas rather than saltfish.

You cannot tell me that we didn't come from these people. I have no further doubt as to true origin of afro-Trinbagonian culture; we are West African, our music is the same, our food is the same.

Be it Nigerian, Ghanaian, Liberian etc, certain aspects of our cultures appear to be too similar to ignore the link.

Now this of course is no scientific study, just my own personal observations of the various cultural aspects on display that night.

I used to feel offended whenever someone assumed my accent to be West African. It no longer bothers me. I now fully understand why they would feel that way

..............though seriously folks, if you've guessed more than 3 African nations and I've said no, just stop, try a different hemisphere.


Monday, August 11, 2014

Southern Identity

Some may find me difficult to categorize. In most ways the typical islander, a classic "trini to de bone." But placed within a foot of some collard greens and I suddenly appear to be something else. Apart from my stubbornly robust accent, I've been told I might otherwise easily pass for an American southerner.

I have a well documented love and appreciation for the history, culture and culinary traditions of the Southern United States (the South). I shocked a gentleman the other day, his great grandfather having served with the Confederate forces during the American Civil War. He couldn't remember the name of a certain US senator credited with saving Madison, Georgia from Sherman's March..........Joshua Hill by the way. My response and evident Civil War knowledge base prompted him to ask what part of Georgia I was from.

That's just the thing, I'm not from here but I sure act like it; but does that make me Southern, Caribbean or both?

(funny because I'm Southern Caribbean, owing to Trinbago's geographical location, but not Southern Trinidadian which often (but not always) implies a whole different ethnic group).

The answer should be clear, I am Trinbagonian, but more and more lately, that no longer seems clear.

One's environment tends to govern one's behaviour, speech and mannerisms, even the way one thinks. For twelve years, Atlanta has been my environment and something about this place has had an effect on me.

Most of us Caribbean island expatriates obviously wouldn't pass for American, but folks at home would have little difficulty in identifying any one of us as foreign.

Permanent Residents
We expats tend to live a dual life, carry two passports, can switch accents on the fly and seem very much at home watching American Football as we might be watching cricket and who will gladly down a funnel cake or a corn dog with the same sort of zeal normally reserved for bake an buljol.

Island-born, island-raised, curry loving, catfish eating, chicken jerking, grits making individuals living happily (mostly) in the United States. Trinbagonians in particular should be intimately familiar with this concept, it is the foundation upon which our own society is built; disparate foreign elements displaced from various places of origin, living together harmoniously in one single place, forming a unified culture all their own.

Our East Indian forefathers (yes I said our) had no idea that their descendants would go on to create doubles, saheena or aloo pie; our African forebears knew nothing of the pelau and oil down that would soon come to pass. But through the passage of time, we went on to create something distinctly different from our own ancestors.

What then will be our legacy? What will those American-born descendants of island parents go on to create? I'm not entirely sure but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it'll at least involve some type of curry shrimp and grits.

Ponder that till next we meet.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The True Meaning of Support

A damn shame
I'm disturbed a bit by the images appearing of Brazilian fans angrily burning their own national flag. It is times like these I think folks can learn a thing or two from Trinbagonians.

It matters little what manner of misfortune is besetting our little nation; one may burn tyres, one may block roads, one even puts the lotion on its skin; but one does not harm the RED, WHITE and BLACK.

Had it been the Soca Warriors eating seven of Germany's finest, without question, Trinbagonians would have been in the streets feting and partying HARD, heads held high, flags waving proudly. At least we were there, and that's good enough.

I've heard it said that as a people, we revel in parda, we revel in US.  I think no people on earth love themselves more than trinis do, no people on earth "bad-talk" their own more than WE do but without a doubt, no people on earth can match our support. Our support in essence matches and exceeds our own self ridicule.

So take comfort people of Brazil, if you love the Samba Warriors even half as much as we do our Warriors, half as much as we love West Indies cricket, you'd honour your team today; stop this nonsense.

Anyways, onto the quarterfinals, I fear even more drama and heartbreak tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Classic Southern Fare

I think by now most of you are aware of my penchant for southern culinary fare. Plainly speaking, I LOVE southern cooking. I live in the land of  battered, fried, battered again, dipped in butter THEN wrapped in bacon and I can't get enough of it. I have died and gone to heaven, what's not to love?

Well lots actually. As I alluded to previously with hog maws, cooking in the south can and does get a little weird, ask anyone who's stood anywhere close to chitterlings being cooked (the smell never goes away). I've so far eaten everything from pig stomach, to pig ears, tongue and snout, I've eaten chitterlings and giblet gravy, had buffalo burgers and alligator tail spring rolls, but nothing has quite intrigued me as much as what I'm about to talk about.

(I'm an islander in love with American southern food, how weird is that?)

I see that look of desire in your eyes. What you seem to be gazing at longingly is a dish affectionately known in the deep south (not pretend south like metro Atlanta) as Chicken Purlough or Chicken Bog. Basically a chicken and rice casserole created out of necessity during the American Civil War. Rebels and Federals alike needed something quick and simple to cook and eat quickly while out making war.

That's the other thing I really do enjoy about living in the State of Georgia, the fact that there is a historical basis for practically everything, including the food.

Chicken is typical but any available meat will do; I happened to find a variation that included an extra special ingredient:


2 whole chickens
1 or more squirrels
1 plus c. rice
1/2 lb. smoked sausage
Salt and pepper

Simmer 1 (or more) squirrel for approximately 2 hours (do not boil). 
Add 2 whole cut-up chickens; boil approximately 1 to 1 1/2 hours. 
Remove chicken and squirrel and debone.

Boil 1/2 pound smoked sausage 30-45 minutes (cut up in small pieces). 
Put meat and 1 cup of broth into pot with fresh water. 
Add appropriate amount of rice; stir frequently with lid cracked. 
Remove to eat in approximately 30 minutes. 

Serves 10-15 people.

Salt and pepper when desired. Best prepared in an iron pot. 

Frankly I don't think one squirrel will do (unless it's the size of a cat); I was thinking at least four. And where in the world is the green seasoning? No shadow beni? With all that wild meat, this recipe is in dire need of some trini modifications, namely pepper and lots of it.

I had planned on inviting a few friends over for the customary curry duck and geera pork summer lime but I'll have to cancel that. The next lime is definitely going to be a squirrel bog cook up.

Until next time folks, behave allyuhself.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

PARTY GUIDE - Atlanta Carnival 2014

Atlanta Carnival 2014
Party Schedule
                                                   Memorial Day Weekend
                               May 22nd  - May 26th 2014

(the weekend before Carnival)
May 17th, 2014

Cooler Fete*
Performer: Lyrikal
Jolie Event Center
5240 Panola Industrial Boulevard
Decatur, GA 30058
General Admission - $40 advance
Tickets: International Roti House - 404-534-2318
              Georgetown Foodmarket - 404-534-0208
              Thomas Bakery - 404-284-8421
Synopsis: This is a no-brainer, the premier Atlanta Carnival launch party several years running, it has been consistently good with the added benefit this year of a live performance by Lyrikal.

May 21st, 2014

Carnival Hangover 8
Free drinks, free food all night
186 Auburn Avenue
Atlanta, GA 30303
General Admission - $20 before midnight with text or flyer (link below) or join the VIP List
Synopsis: If I had to go anywhere the Wednesday before Atlanta Carnival, I'd definitely do Hangover which has always been consistently good, you can't go wrong with a Krushmore fete, not to mention the all night freeness (food, beers, liquor). 

Army Fete
D1 Event Center
2520 Park Central Boulevard
Decatur, GA 30035
General Admission - $10 at the door, ladies free before 11:30
Tickets: N/A
Synopsis: I'm not so sure about this one honestly; from a trini soca lover's perspective the line up (with the exception of DJ Stephen) seems heavy on the dancehall and VI music front not to mention that it's a Wednesday night, folks still have to work the next morning. By all means go if you like dancehall or small island music but soca lovers beware.

May 22nd, 2014

Performers: Kerwin Dubois, 5StarAkil
Museum Bar
181 Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard
Atlanta, GA 30312
General Admission - $25
VIP - $45
Synopsis: Kerwin always gives an electrifying live performance and with the inclusion of the "To me heart" man 5 Star Akil as well, I Am Soca 2014 should not disappoint. I highly recommend this fete.

Flag Party 2014
Performers: Iwer George
Cream Ultra Lounge
3249 Buford Highway NE
Atlanta, GA
General Admission - Free entry with any flag before midnight
Tickets: N/A
Synopsis: This is the first time I've ever seen Flag Party featuring a live performance. My recent experience with this particular Atlanta Carnival regular has seen Flag Party become a very small island affair, which is fine if you come from the VI, St. Kitts etc, but doesn't bode well for bonafide soca lovers. This might have been the fete to go to had there not been I AM SOCA taking place the very same night. Iwer George may have been better served hooking up with Kerwin. 

May 23rd, 2014

GBM Showcase*
Performers: KES, Destra, Ravi B, , Lyrical, Shall Marshal, Nutron 
Golden Glide Roller Rink
2750 Wesley Chapel Road
Decatur, GA 30034
General Admission - $25 advance, more at the door
Synopsis: How much more convincing do you need? It's Kes, Destra, Shal, Ravi B Nutron and Lyrical, don't be ridiculous.

Atlanta Carnival J'Ouvert
Performers: Bunji Garlin, Fayann Lyons, Beenie Man
The Atrium
5479 Memorial Drive
Stone Mountain, GA
General Admission - $25 in advance
Synopsis: Not to be confused with actual jouvert, this confusingly-named annual Atlanta Carnival party has been perplexing generations of party goers for years. Here is where things begin to get a little complicated; feters are now faced with a choice, either Bunji/Fayann/Beenie, or GBM Showcase with Kes, Destra etc which are both frustratingly on the same night.

2nd Annual Official Atlanta Carnival JOUVERT
Herndon Stadium - Morris Brown College
643 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive
Atlanta, GA
General Admission - $10 advance, $15 at the door
Synopsis: Closer to what should be expected of an event called "jouvert," come prepared  to be covered in mud, oil, paint, chocolate, etc, definitely not an event for the clean minded folk. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure about this event; first introduced last year, it does not yet have a major following and also faces stiff competition from the GBM Showcase and the Bunji/Fayann/Beenie Man fetes that same night.

May 24th, 2014

Atlanta Carnival Parade*
Atlanta Underground
50 Central Avenue SW
Atlanta, GA 30303
General Admission- $10 
Synopsis: This year Carnival moves to Underground Atlanta; please, for the love of everything holy, buy your tickets ONLINE. Do not under circumstances attempt to purchase carnival village tickets onsite, you will be in line for've been warned.

NOTE: Be very careful folks, there appears to be two listings on Eventbrite claiming to be "The Official Atlanta Carnival Village 2014." There is always some confusion with Atlanta Carnival every year, I swear, but please be mindful that the only Official Carnival, is taking place at the Atlanta Underground, NOT Herndon Stadium at Morris Brown College, that was last year's venue.

Kooler Fete*
Karibbean Konnection
2620 Park Central Boulevard
Decatur GA
General  - $20 advance
Tickets: Thomas Bakery - 404-284-8421
               Sugar Island Jerk - 770-985-0491
               International Roti House - 404-534-2318
               Tassa Roti Shop - 770-977-3163
               Marlies Food Kitchen - 678-647-3389
               Karibbean Konnection - 770-883-4566
               Fadda Slackey - 646-541-6435
Synopsis: Every other fete this year (except the other Cooler Fete) offers online ticket sales, what exactly is the holdup? Who exactly has time to drive around trying to buy tickets? It is my hope that they address this issue in future, it's 2014 after all. Kooler Fete 2013 was fun but there were issues. For one the DJ didn't have any of the headline act's music which led to an a capella performance and worse, him singing other artistes' music. Secondly the sound system was horrible, the outdoor speakers shorted out, leaving those outside with no music. It is my sincere hope that important lessons were learned, that these issues shouldn't resurface this year, I thoroughly expect to have a good time.

Carnival Scandal
Performers: Benjai, Tallpree
Agape Event Center
6420 Hillandale Drive
Lithonia, GA 30058
General - $20 advance
Synopsis: I'd be careful with this one folks, Benjai and Tallpree are definitely tempting prospects but I don't know much about the promoter in question and there does not appear to be much buzz around this. Don't be surprised to find only you Benjai and Tallpree in the building when you get there.

Atlanta Carnival VI Wuk Up
Performers: V.I.O, Spectrum International, Pumpa, Rudy and Show Dem Band
5479 Memorial Drive
Stone Mountain, GA 30083
General - $25 advance
Synopsis: A great fete option for the VI Crew and small islanders among us.

May 25th, 2014

Sunday Morningbreakfast fete (8:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.)
Mc Bride's Complex
2272 Park Central Blvd
Decatur, GA 30035
General - $20 advance
Synopsis: Third year running, Sunday Morning is the place to be on erm.....Sunday Morning. Good food, great music, nice vibes, be there if you can wake yourself up to go.

15th Annual Wear White*
Performer: Iwer George, Blaxx
Golden Glide Roller Rink
2750 Wesley Chapel Road
Decatur, GA 30034
General - $20 advance
Synopsis: Even though the Machel fete last year was the same night, it did nothing to tame this party which ran tim 6:30 Monday morning. With no Machel to steal its thunder this year, plus the inclusion of Iwer George AND Blaxx, one would be silly to miss this.

So that's it folks, I hope that you will all find this information useful this year, it's always my goal to help you the soca lover, to properly navigate the mess that Atlanta Carnival can be from time to time. Go on out there, be safe and more importantly have a very good time.

As usual, if I happened to miss something, please leave a note in the comments, I'll try to update the listings as quickly as possible.

*highlighted events are ones that I personally plan to attend.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Preconceived Notions

My son's school asked me to present at their Career Day this year.

I was immediately concerned because for one, my robust trini accent perplexes even adult Americans, how would their children cope, and secondly, my job isn't even remotely interesting, not even to me, and probably much less so for a classroom of 8 year olds.

But as the non-custodial parent, I already struggle with limited visibility at his school so I'm always keen on stepping up when an opportunity like this presents itself.

First graders seem to react best to visual stimulation thus my challenge was to formulate a presentation that would keep them engaged with as minimal verbal input as possible from me (pesky accent remember). I thus showed up armed to the teeth with the tools of my trade (land acquisition agent by the way), measuring tape, hard hat, caution vest, measuring wheel for ground distance, etc.

And you know what, I think my presentation went exceedingly well, the kids certainly seemed to like it. They all got a kick out of trying on my hard hat and vest, and running the measuring wheel around the classroom. I'd even go so far as to say daddy was a hit despite not being a policeman, fireman or pilot.

The way these things work, parents come in, talk for ten minutes then take questions. What happened in the latter portion is what threw me for a loop. It began innocently enough with questions ranging from "what hours do you work, or "do you sit behind a desk all day," to "where's Nick's mother" (awkward).

Okay this is getting weird. 
But then the weird questions started popping up. (and bear in mind most in the class were age 7)

What did you live in back home? A hut?
How did you move around? Are there cars back there? Y'all have roads?
How was it possible to come to America by plane when planes don't fly to Trinidad?
Are there white people there?

If this all seems familiar to you, it's because I've written about it before.
What foreign policy?

The difference is I was talking about college age adults back then, not young children. Where then are these concepts coming from, these preconceived notions that children as young as six and seven already have of life in the Caribbean?

Are we influencing these views and if so what can we ourselves do to help educate these young minds about us and our culture. Yes, we're classed as developing nations, 3rd world even but I do not think "developing" should be taken to mean "stone age."

Should we be responsible?
But then are we really responsible for how we ourselves are perceived by the American public? Think about it, as expat Trinbagonians, most of us already had a fair idea of what to expect about life in the US PRIOR to moving here. We'd already had an understanding of US culture, habits, standard of living, etc from a very early age. Though one might argue that this is because of the pervasive nature of american entertainment, it should also be considered that we educate ourselves.

Face the facts, our education system strives to give us a global perspective. High schools teach English literature and American history. We are versed on Americans by school age, why is the reverse not the same? There is the internet after all; Wikipedia, Youtube, Nikki frickin Minaj. There really shouldn't be a circumstance like this in the information age. But you know what, I didn't let it bother me. How could it? As far as I was concerned, I was present at the formation of an incorrect notion and I stopped it.

Fifteen years from now, these kids will enter college, meet someone from Trinidad or Barbados and hopefully be able to say "hey, I know about you guys, I know where you come from, come let's grab a doubles."

My work here is done.